Your intuition is your best weapon against getting conned in a sale. While it's unlikely it'll happen in the first place, you'll know when you're talking to someone who makes you uncomfortable. While a little discomfort will often rule out some safe buyers/sellers that you just find off-putting, unless you're selling some rare item you should be able to be picky and still find someone you're comfortable selling to or buying from. Ultimately, you just need to be patient. If you have a prospective buyer/seller in mind, just get to know him or her a little bit. Ask to talk on the phone. If you're interested in the item they're selling, ask a few questions about it. Questions about usage often lead to answers with personal information. You can use this opportunity to ask a couple of questions about the seller to get to know them a little bit. If you're the seller, encourage the buyer to ask questions about the item. Make them feel comfortable, let them know a little bit about you, and try to find out a little bit about them. This can seem a little awkward but you can often find ways to ask a few questions. You're going to be setting a place to meet, so it's not unreasonable to ask (approximately) where they live and/or work. You can use this information to mention something you like in that area or even let them know you've never been there before. You can ask what the area is like, how far it is from your location, and so on. This shouldn't be a long discussion, but devoting about a minute of your conversation to ask a few questions will help you gain some comfort in dealing with the buyer or seller.
Forgetting about the numerous Nigerian Princes in need, most scams you'll find when selling online all have one thing in common: they're too good to be true. If you're selling, this almost always comes in the form of a buyer in another state who's willing to offer you your asking price if you jump through a couple of hoops to ship it to them or their relative in yet another location. Generally you want to avoid replying altogether. If you're not sure the prospective buyer is a scammer, just keep asking for information until you know one way or the other. The more B.S. the scammer has to make up the easier it will be to tell they're a scammer. When it comes to buying, however, it can be hard to tell the difference between a good deal and a scam deal. I've found some very, very cheap stuff on Craigslist before from legitimate sellers who were just in a bind and needed to offload their stuff quickly. Scams tend to show up in the exact same form, so you need to be cautious when approaching a great deal. For the most part, the best thing you can do is get to know the seller (as described above) to get a feeling for their level of trustworthiness. Keep an eye out for red flags, which often come in the form of unusual meeting places and payment requests. If you still don't feel comfortable, however, just make sure you meet in a public place, bring a friend with you, and thoroughly test what you're buying before committing to the sale. Alternatively, move on. You're making a purchase, not a life-altering decision. If you miss out on one great deal, be patient and you'll find another. Rarely will prices go up if you're willing to wait awhile. There's very little you need right now. Being patient gives you a great advantage over the majority of people in the world, in many situations.
Fortunately, counterfeit cash is not a big problem, says Hsiung. But when dealing with more than $100, he recommends getting paid online with a service like PayPal or with a cashier's check to avoid issues. Personal checks can be problematic because you don't know whether the account has funds, whether it's fake or whether the check was printed using a stolen identity, says Hsiung. Cashier's checks, while easy to cash, do have potential fraud issues. They've gotten much easier to counterfeit in recent years, says Hsiung. Also watch out for a common scam where buyers send personal or certified checks, often for more than the sale price, and ask you to wire back the difference, says LaPedis. In cases like these, the check is usually fake, but you won't discover this until later. "You'll lose the item and the money," he says, plus bank fees. While this scam has been around for a while, it's still working, says Hsiung, especially with international "buyers." Craigslist warns on its website to deal only with local buyers you can meet in person, which will prevent 99 percent of scam attempts. The website also warns never to send funds via a wire service. Once you wire the money, it's gone.
On Craigslist, it's easy to mask your identity by using their automatically generated anonymous email address, which is then forwarded to your personal email address. Don't give your address or phone number on the post, says McGrath. An interested buyer can email you through Craigslist, and you can respond. "We do the whole thing by email and just meet at the Starbucks" to make the sale, McGrath says. He uses Craigslist only for larger items he's selling, like a dog crate that's difficult to ship. If the item is too large for your car and you need them to meet at your home, McGrath suggests talking to the person on the phone first. Get a sense of what they're like before giving out your address, says McGrath. Consider using your cellphone number, which doesn't trace back to your home address. Or set up a Google Voice account, says Hsiung. Google Voice numbers are free, and you can program it to forward to your home or cellphone, masking your actual phone number. Many people use dedicated email addresses for online sales as well, to keep their personal email addresses separate.
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